Gavel Grab

Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The Asian American Bar Association of New York performed a reenactment last week of the trial of 63 Japanese-American men who refused to report for the draft during World War II until their rights as U.S. citizens were restored. According to the New York Law Journal, this is the sixth year that the association has performed such reenactments in order to educate the public about significant events in Asian-American legal history.
  • U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R.-FL) has drawn criticism from the Congressional Black Caucus for holding up the confirmation of two African-American judicial nominees. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the caucus claims in a press release that: “30 percent of judicial nominees pending confirmation in the Senate are African American,” which it says is a direct result of “obstruction of African American judicial confirmations by Republican Senators.”

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The American Academy of Arts and Sciences on Judicial Independence

.Yesterday, I was honored to participate in a program on judicial independence hosted by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at the NYU Law School.  The program—the Academy’s first examining these issues—attracted 200-300 people, including many interested students.  Former New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse moderated.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor delivered opening remarks, reprising her concerns about growing pressure on judicial elections.  “It’s harder for a judge to be neutral if they think about the popularity of their opinions and who has donated to them,” she said.  “We can’t afford to have a justice system that’s perceived as corrupt, biased or unethical.”  She closed with a warning:  “Statutes and constitutions don’t protect judicial independence.  People do.”

Yale Law Professor Judith Resnik reviewed the evolution of the concept of strong and independent courts.  Her slide show began with an image of flaying of a corrupt judge in Gerard David’s 1498 diptych The Justice of Cambyses (pictured above) and similar cultural representations of judging as a high-risk occupation.  She showed how the notion of independent courts became enshrined in America’s founding documents, and how courthouse architecture can reinforce the cultural strength of the courts.

My own presentation touched on first reports of what happened in this year’s judicial elections: Supreme Court justices raising what probably will exceed $30 million, and $17 million or more in TV ads.  I touched on voter approval for merit selection in four different county referenda.  I also discussed how party-line voting ousted 22 experienced GOP judges in Texas this year, and 19 more two years ago.  As usual, when I showed some of the ads that ran this year, there were a lot of gasps in the audience

Georgetown Professor Viet Dinh discussed criticism of the courts, and the complicated task of distinguishing between fair critiques and inappropriate attacks.  “Illegitimate criticism is the majority of criticism we see today,” he said.  Valid criticism, he added, includes situations where a judge’s decision “steps so far out of bounds that he has failed the judicial oath,” perhaps “in response to external pressures.”  He lamented that “elites know how to criticize judges in ways that are effective in forcing them to change their behavior.”

The Academy , founded by John Adams, held the program to launch a new issue of it’s journal, Daedelus, that is devoted to judicial independence issues.  It includes contributions by the panelists and many other authors.  The issue was edited by Meryl Chertoff, Executive Director of the Sandra Day O’Connor Center on the State of the Judiciary.

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Newseum to Host ABA-Sponsored "Rule of Law" Town Hall Meeting

Washington, DC’s newest and glossiest museum – the Newseum – will play host to an April 30 town hall meeting on the rule of law. Pete Williams of NBC News will moderate a distinguished panel that includes Dianna Huffman, a distinguished lecturer at the Philip Merrill School of Journalism and a member of Justice at Stake’s board of directors. All the details, including registration information, are on the ABA’s website.

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Don’t Throw Away Those Sunday Inserts

Not because you might be tossing away a few good deals at the big boxes, but because this Sunday’s Parade Magazine — which comes packaged in most Sunday papers with the inserts and the cartoons — has this really good article written by retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.  As always, Justice O’Connor provides us all with much food for thought, and this time she is adding on some action steps for every American to help protect the courts.

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Justice at (Cheese)steak: Judicial Elections in Philadelphia

Only in Philadelphia!

The catchphrase popularized by boxing promoter Don King should be adapted to recount Philadelphia’s recent judicial elections. Last month, the City of Brotherly Love elected Willie Singletary as Traffic Court Judge despite $11,000 in traffic-related fines and penalties (which his father paid shortly before the primary) and having his license suspended until 2011. Philadelphia voters also played a major role in bumping Superior Court Judge Seamus McCaffrey up to the state’s Supreme Court: McCaffrey is best known for meting out hard justice to, shall we say…passionate Eagles fans in the bowels of Philadelphia’s now-demolished Veterans’ Stadium.

These newly elected interpreters of the law were chosen for different reasons. McCaffrey benefited, at least in part, from a level of name recognition unmatched among other candidates. Notwithstanding his solid track record in lower courts, his unique name, public appearances, and call-ins to sports talk radio stations enabled average voters to distinguish him from other candidate, for whom they likely had very limited information.

Read more…

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JAS Daily News Monitor 12/7/07

Panel OKs bill to televise open Supreme Court sessions – CNN Washington Bureau
The Senate Judiciary Committee approves a bipartisan bill that would put television cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court. The bill is not going unopposed by some Supreme Court Justices.

Task force to keep judge races in check – The Capital Times, Madison, WI
In the wake of recent highly politicized Supreme Court elections, State Bar President Tom Bastings has announced a new task force designed to monitor campaigns and help restore justice and integrity in the election process.

Commentary: The Supreme Court Must Rebuke Some of Louisiana’s Errant Prosecutors – and Start in Jena – Black America Web
As the U.S. Supreme Court hears Louisiana case on racial bias in the justice system, Judge Greg Mathis argues that greater Supreme Court intervention is needed to dismantle racial prejudices especially in the Jena six case.

Getting to know judges – The Kansas City Community News
The newly formed Kansas Commission on Judicial Performance will help inform voters on the judicial candidates and provide judges with evaluations designed to improve performance.

Click here for more news on fair and impartial courts issues from the Brennan Center for Justice E-lerts.

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